Friday 16 July 2010

Google App Inventor for Android

Im keeping a keen eye out on mobile devices software that have some educational potential and functionality that relate to the science and technology disciplines and could be made freely available to students. Google have now released an application 'inventor' for its android based phones. Its esentially a way to write your own 'Apps' without actually getting involved with the nitty gritty of hard core programming. Its very much a visual programming language. I think their video says it all, with a basic example.

For me the bit Im excited about is that to quote Google:

"...App Inventor provides access to a GPS-location sensor, you can build apps that know where you are. You can build an app to help you remember where you parked your car, an app that shows the location of your friends or colleagues at a concert or conference, or your own custom tour app of your school, workplace, or a museum."

A piece of free software that allows access to the GPS is good news for field work as far as Im concerned. It will be interesting to see how good this software is...

Creating your own Google My Maps

I have been working on a number of Google Map related teaching and learning projects recently and have used Google Maps to good effect within web pages for a number of my projects. Previously this process required some javascript added to the web page code, of course there are occasions more complicated applications will requires these maps to be hard coded... however, My Maps has been coming along in leaps and bounds and negates a lot of this process altogether. It even creates the necessary embedding code for you!

You will need to create a Google account to use this facility, if you already have an iGoogle, then log in with this first. Ok, so you're logged and on the My Maps page, what next? The above video by Google explains the process very well and those of you that use My Maps may have already been greeted with this video. Note in the video that when adding photos, the items must be hosted on the web for example Flickr or Picassa to name a couple. Enjoy your mapping.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

GEES Anniversary Conference - the value of PDAs in extending fieldwork practice in the Earth Sciences

I'm currently attending the GEES Annual Conference here at Plymouth University. Where geography, earth and environmental science academics, support staff and friends come together to share best practice. It's a special occasion for the GEES subject centre, this being its 10th anniversary.

Why the image of a PDA? Well yet again TEL pervades the realms of this conference, there is a technology stream throughout. Happily I can report that the first day contains a series of field trips with a TEL theme. My colleagues Drs Mark Anderson, Meriel Fitzpatrick and I will be running the PDA (GPS) based fieldtrip to Kingsand (as detailed here), where delegates are invited to do the very same as our geology students!

Derek France is also running a parallel session (unfortunately I miss this one!) where delegates are taken on an iWalk, they will be shown various interesting parts of our city and film elements as they go. Then later create an electronic story board showing their findings. I was talking to Derek about this and he said that his students do the same thing at his end of the woods, they typically can turn out a story board using MS Movie Maker in 1.5hours! Yes you guessed it, in effect a short film/podcast.

Also in the afternoon is Dr John Maskall, Dr Paul Lunt, Dr Trevor Collins and John Lea fieldwork session to Devon Great Consuls, 'Improving accessibility to environmental science fieldwork using a portable communications network', which back in March I had the pleasure of attending their trial run.

There is so much going on at this conference regarding TEL, from Facebook to Google Earth. This should be an interesting one!

Update! - Photographs I took at the conference

Thursday 1 July 2010

Earth's gravity podcast example

I've generally been keeping an eye (and ear) out for simple science based podcasting applications and have particularly enjoyed the sort of outputs that the BBC News online produce. I'm not talking about their high end productions but their simple use of audio, usually reinforced with images. Although most would agree that good use of descriptive audio can stand alone - we can all still learn a lot from radio broadcasting techniques - think of the plays or shows with narrators setting the scene before the characters talk... If I may point you to this recent BBC News article on Earth's gravity.

I'm being a little bias, as this was a topic I remember well from my geology classes. Did you know that earth's gravity varies across the earth surface? Those of you from disciplines that link to environmental/geological studies will of no doubt know this as the Bouguer anomalies.

I digress... Notably this articles page includes a very simple podcast from Professor Reiner Rummel, explaining the gravity map (see GRAVITY - A MOVING TARGET) OK its not called a podcast on the page, but it has all the characteristic. Essentially a typical BBC interview asking questions combined with the images. I cannot stress how simple and effective short bites of audio are for enhancing learning. Why bother? Well the beauty of using audio (only) is that it's easy to do and students are able to carry these snapshots of knowledge with them. A simple application could be an image on our tulip ('MS Sharepoint') and a link to the audio (held on iTunes U or our new UpMedia system), would you not agree this could be effective? Enjoy being creative with your favourite subject matter.

Image courtesy of ESA - GOCE High Level Processing Facility.